When you discover that your student needs more help with academic tasks than that provided by your school, you may decide to seek out a private tutor. Finding the “right” tutor should be preceded by understanding what kind of assistance your student needs. After all, all tutors do not offer the same areas of expertise. It is not enough to know that your student needs help with reading or math. The specific kinds of issues in each subject area need to be investigated. For example, some students have difficulty with decoding while others are unable to comprehend what they read. Of equal importance is gaining an understanding of how your student learns so that you not only pick a tutor who is “good” in teaching reading, but also can present the material in a manner that is congruent with your student’s learning style. For instance, some students have auditory processing deficits and need to be tutored with this in mind. Others have visual/spatial problems, and these have to be understood in order to deliver the material in a way that makes it accessible.
The other important factor to consider when choosing a tutor is whether executive functioning (EF) deficits in addition to learning disorders are causing the problem. EF issues may include inattention, lack of initiative, poor task completion, working memory, and emotional regulation. Here, too, tutors must know how to manage EF problems as well as subject area deficits. For example, a student with a working memory problem may have difficulty recalling math facts or retrieving letter/sound associations and “drilling” alone may not be sufficient to fix the problem.
The best way to gain these understandings is to have a comprehensive psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation. These types of evaluations will identify the suspect academic issues, the EF issues, and, most importantly, tell the tutor how to address them. Some schools and learning centers do evaluations; however, unless they are sufficiently thorough enough to detect the academic and EF issues, they may miss the mark. The evaluation should “drive” the tutoring.
With regard to finding a tutor who can implement the recommendations contained in the evaluation, it is common for parents to ask schools for recommendations. This, too, may yield a good referral or parents may be directed to a teacher at the school who does tutoring. The point here is, not any teacher will do as a tutor. If the comprehensive evaluation indicates significant learning and EF problems, a specialized tutor who is trained in these areas is necessary. This may be a special education teacher or other equally qualified professional. Of course, chemistry between the tutor and your student is important and you will have to interview the tutor to see if he/she is the kind of person your child can work with successfully.